Melding Games with Empathy

A Project Prototype by Beverlyn Nagaue

published on Dec 15, 2015

Japanese III high school students concurrently study the Japanese concept of "omoiyari" (similar to empathy) and Japanese New Year's activities.  They create games inspired from traditional Japanese New Year's games or traditional New Year's activities, overtly adding their concept of "omoiyari" to the games.

Overview files comments

Launching the Project

Parody of Ad Council (Ad Council) commercial

Managing the Project

Embodying Empathy

Mini-Melding Task

Learn About Japanese New Year

Melding Challenge



Implementation Info

Implementation information not specified.

Preparing for the Project


The purpose of this project is to give the Japanese III students an opportunity for greater empathy and understanding of Japanese people and their culture.  To that end, the approximately 60 Japanese III students will delve into the Japanese concept "omoiyari" and interact on three occasions with the approximately 30 Japanese nationals attending our high school as ELD (English Language Development) students.

The project will include six segments:  

1) Parody of a commercial on the topic of "omoiyari" (Japanese concept similar to empathy), the product presented to ELD students.

2) Embodying empathy, and understanding the difference between the American view of empathy and the Japanese concept of "omoiyari".

3) A "Mini Melding" project, where students learn basic vocabulary and sentence structures for speaking about "omoiyari" (through an "omoiyari" song) and giving instructions (through an instructor-led model, in Japanese, of the jan-ken [rock-paper-scissors] game). Students then meld the song and game into a new game.  The new games are presented and evaluated within the classroom.

4) Learning about Japanese New Year's practices, including reading some children's books on Japanese New Year, a survey filled out by both the ELD and Japanese III students, Japanese III students composing a survey of what constitutes a quality game, and the Japanese III students interviewing the ELD students about their personal New Year's practices.

5) A "Melding Challenge", in which Japanese III students create and present games, in Japanese, that meld the traditional New Year's practices with "omoiyari".  The product is presented in Japanese to the ELD students, and to participants in the New Year Festival of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

6) Reflections of learning within each segment of the project.

Launching the Project

Parody of Ad Council (Ad Council) commercial

Segment subquestion:  How can puns assist me in expressing discontent?

The first interaction between the Japanese III students and the ELD students will be the presentation of a parody of a Public Service Announcement on the subject of "omoiyari" running in the days following the Tohoku earthquake in 2011.  Students will learn through a Wall Street Journal article that this and similar commercials ran consistently during every commercial break during that time, and became irritating. The students will then view a parody of the original commercial that cleverly uses puns, but is violent and disrespectful. Japanese III students will make respectful parodies of the commercial, using puns to make light of the irritating aspects of the commercial.  The ELD students will give feedback on the efficacy of the puns in the parodies, and will also share their personal experiences in the days following the earthquake.

Links to the commercials and article the students will view:


Managing the Project

Embodying Empathy

Segment subquestions:  How can I embody empathy in my everyday life?  How are self-compassion and compassion for others related?

Students will discuss stereotypes in general, and stereotypes about Japanese people and culture in particular.  They will read an article from the Japan Times that stereotypes Japanese.

Students will also learn the differences between "omoiyari" and the American interpretation of empathy.

Students will also participate in daily mindfulness rituals, gleaned from the following sources, and personally practiced by myself:

 Patricia C. Broderick, Learning to Breathe:  A Mindful Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance (New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA, 2013)

 Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers, Mindful Learning (Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA, 2014).

 Daniel Rechtschaffen, The Way of Mindful Education:  Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, 2014).

Task Extension

The mindfulness and self-empathy exercises will be continued daily for the duration of the project, at least, and probably beyond.  These practices assist in reducing stress, increasing resilience, and improving interpersonal skills.

Mini-Melding Task

Segment subquestions:  What Japanese language vocabulary and structures do I need to speak about “omoiyari” and to give game instructions?  How can “omoiyari” and “jan-ken” be combined into a new game?

Students learn vocabulary and sentence structure relating to speaking about “omoiyari”  through the following Omoiyari song.  Students will listen to the song; vocabuary and sentence structure will be reviewed; the song will be memorized and sung in class; and a quiz will be given on the terms and structures from the song.  Students will also learn hand gestures for song in the second version, which will give more possibilities for the melding task.

Students will then learn basic vocabulary and structures for game instructions through instructor modeling of jan-ken rules (all in Japanese).  Since most students know this game, students can perceive contextually what is being said, and can concentrate on the "First you, then you", "X beats Y" and "If you win,..." structures.  Students play the game Japanese style.  Then the class will go to the following site.  Each student will be assigned a portion of the site to retell, and the class will give more detailed rules of playing the game Japanese style.

In groups of 3, students will design a preliminary idea of how to meld the game and song.  The class will discuss what elements makes quality game, and we will co-create a rubric. Groups will be "partnered", and the two groups will help each other create better games based on the co-created rubric.

All groups will present games to the class, giving instructions in Japanese, as if the audience had no knowledge of the game.  Groups will evaluate each other based on the co-created rubric.

Assessment for this segment is not on the absolute adherence to the co-created rubric, but on the quality of perseverence -- how the groups plan to modify areas that need revision.  The planned revisions need to adhere to SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound).

Learn About Japanese New Year

Segment subquestions:  What are the characteristics of interacting with others with curiosity and non-judgment?

The Japanese III students will get a general view of Japanese New Year practices through children's books.  These are the books that will be used:


  1. (In English)
    Setsuko Broderick and Willamarie Moore,
    Japanese Traditions: Rice Cakes, Cherry Blossoms and Matsuri (Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, 2010)

    Tokie Ching, A Hawai’i Japanese New Year with Yuki-chan (Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, HI, 2003)

    (In Japanese)
    Hirotaka Nakagawa,
    Akemashite Omedetou (Doshinsha, Tokyo, 2003)

    Hiroshi Kagakui, Mochi no Kimochi (Kodansha, Tokyo, 2005)

    Shigeo Nishimura, Mou Sugu Oshougatsu (Fukuinkan, Tokyo, 2010)

  2. Both the Japanese III students (who are Americans of Japanese ethnicity),  and the ELD (Japanese national) students will take a survey on their familiarity and participation in traditional Japanese New Year's activities.  The survey will serve the purpose of both delineating differences between the practices of the two groups, and giving the Japanese III students a selection of traditional games or activities that they can work with.

  3. Before interacting with ELD students Jpn III students will design a survey for both their classmates and the ELD students about the essential elements needed for a quality game. They will use the survey as a starting point in their conversation with the ELD students. Interaction with the ELD students will be to get more detailed first-hand information on the games or activities, and also to get a stronger sense of what "omoiyari" means for those ELD students.

Melding Challenge

Segment subquestions:  How can I put an intangible concept into a tangible activity?  What steps do I need to take between now and presentation to effectively present my game?

The Japanese III students, in groups of 3, will choose one traditional game or activity and modify the game or activity to include "omoiyari".  This segment will include drawing up a collaboration contract, writing an blueprint of their games in both Japanese and English, producing the physical components of the game, rehearsing the rules for their game in Japanese, a quiz reproducing their game's rules in (Japanese) writing, and 3 days of practice teaching their games, in Japanese, in different contexts.  This is culminated by presentations to two audiences:  first, the ELD students they have been work with, and second, attendees of the New Year's Festival of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.



Students will be asked to contemplate and respond to the following questions, after each of the segments of the project.

1. OVERALL (after completion):  How do games help us learn from each other and understand each other?

 2. AC Parody:  How can puns assist me in expressing discontent?

 3. Embodying Empathy:  How can I embody empathy in my everyday life?  How are self-empathy and empathy for others related?

4.  Mini-Melding Task:  What Japanese language vocabulary and sentence structures do I need to master to speak about "omoiyari" and to give game instructions?

 4. Survey of New Year’s Practices:  What are the characteristics of interacting with others with curiosity and non-judgment?

 5. Create a Game Infused with おもいやり:  How can I put an intangible concept into a tangible activity?

 6. Presenting Games:  What steps do I need to take between now and the presentation date, to effectively present the game I created with high quality and confidence?




Reflect on your learning, successes, and challenges over the course of this project.  Include in your reflection:

1)   Your current understanding of 思いやり and the difference between this and the American concept of empathy.

2)   Any successes and challenges in the process of creating the game and learning the language for the game.

3)   Any successes and challenges in the game presentations.

4)   Your opinion of the value of interactions with the ELD students and with the Festival participants.

5)   Any changes in your views or opinions about Japanese people and their culture – compared with your ideas, views and opinions before the project began.

6)   Suggestions for changing anything in the project that would improve it.

Implementation Info